For many years family history has interested me, not only from the wish to find out where our origins were, but because my imagination had been sparked by the stories told by my Grandmother Thomson and my mother of the crossing of the plains by ox team. It has always seemed to me a splendid privilege to have taken part in that great migration which has fired the imagination of the whole world. Tho the hardships cannot be overlooked (and they were probably felt much more by the people traveling so slowly by ox teams than was any sense of making history) from our vantage point of a century later, this great movement of souls across so many dusty, weary miles seems to have called for outstanding courage and iron determination.
The winning of the west has long been the subject of song and story. Many books have been written, many stories, told many moving pictures made of that fantastic movement westward, ever westward which actuated so many of our forebears. That our own grandfather and grandmother had definite parts in this great tide of eager humanity, is a fact to hold to with pride. Their courage was like that of our earlier ancestors who emigrated to America from Scotland in the 1700s and helped in many ways to build the new government and free the infant from the shackles of old world domination. Pushing onward for more room and then more room, seemed to be their cry. Frontiers were always before them - from Scotland to Virginia and Kentucky, thence to Missouri and Iowa, and then the long final trek to Oregon and California. Now, 100 years after that migration, where is our frontier?
It was to attempt to form some ideas of the beginnings of this adventurous family, that Lida Jarmon and I visited Scotland in July, 1957. We first spent a few days in Edinburgh, paying a visit to the old castle and walking the Royal Mile to Holyrood House in the older part of the city. Edinburgh is a lovely city and somehow I felt at home there. Maybe my Scottish ancestors were welcoming me back home but Prince's Street seemed as familiar as Seattle's Fifth Avenue and the people were gay and friendly. It is a clean city the lovely park along Prince's Street seemed a haven of rest. Bright sunshine and the Scottish dancing in the park added to my enjoyment.
Lida and I next visited Glasgow and spent a whole day at Ayr, which we found delightful. It is a very busy small town with a wonderful mile long beach of white sand, and many tourists were there enjoying it. Ayr is the location of the Burns monument so that Bobbie Burns devotees come here to worship at his shrine. Ayr is also the beginnings of the Thomson saga as we know it, for here Robert the Bruce was crowned the first King of Scotland in 1315. (I'm just quoting her, so don't write me about this. vtb) We visited the site of that church where the Parliament had met and declared that the Scottish crown should belong to Robert and his heirs. Only the tower, which was restored in 1914 by the late Marquess of Bute and later acquired by the council, is standing now. They have made a park of the site and the surrounding churchyard and it is one of the most ancient and most interesting of their possessions. St. John's Tower is all that remains of the 12th century church of St. John the Baptist. It must have been an imposing church and held many memories for those students of Scotch history. In 1652 Cromwell built his citadel in Ayr and within its ramparts was the church which was used as an arsenal. It suffered greatly under such depradations but was used for worship until 1689 when it was demolished, piece by piece, by four burgesses of the town until only the tower was left standing.
At the time of the degradation of this church, Cromwell gave the town 1000 Scottish marks to build a new one. This church was built in 1654 and is called the "Auld Kirk". Lida and I saw a sign on the street in Ayr which read "Auld Kirk. Built 1654" and pointing down an alley. We went there and found a large stone archway with square top and across the top the date 1656. On either side on the side posts of the gate were plaques which read: the left - Church of Scotland. Auld Kirk of Ayr. (St. John the Baptist). Rev. Wm. P. Howat, B. D."; on the right - "Erected 1954 by the people of Ayr to mark the tercentenary of the Auld Kir."
We entered the churchyard through this deep gate and found the Auld Kirk surrounded by graves stones. The church is of stones cut in irregular shapes and set together with mortar. It has many beautiful stained glass windows. The last two summers, workmen had been replacing the old stones which were falling from thier places in the crumbling mortar. This work was being done by a 74 year old man who had come out of retirement for the job so that the stones were being reset in place according to the old method which preserves the antiquity of the church. It is a Presbyterian Church which is the accepted Church of Scotland.
Hanging inside from the balconies and from sockets along sides of the church are the flags of the regiments of the Royal Scottish Fusilliers which date back to the Crimean War. Some are so tattered that the pieces are preserved in a net. The left balcony is called the Sailor's Loft and over it hangs a model of a sailing ship. It was given to the church by some shipwerecked sailors in gratitude for the help and charity they had received here. The church has very old pews; some of them are the old family pews for which the worshipers paid by the year. There is a new Communion Table and chairs made of the old paneling of the church and presented of the tercentenary in 1954 by a member.
We began looking about the graveyard for old stones bearing the Thomson name when the caretaker came out and told us to go see a Miss Hyslop who lived beside the churchyard gate. We climbed some very old, well worn, stone stairs which were very dark found her apartment. Two little old maids with the relics of ages lived there and they had a plan of the cemetery. In it we found the name of Thomas Thomson and his mother Mary Fleming. We went down into the churchyard again and found the stone which had one one side the words - "Erected by Elizabeth Thomson in memory of her husband, David Ferguson and her daughter, Margaret"; and on the other side - "the burial place of Thomas Thomson and his mother, Mary Fleming." On the top of the stone was a date so obliterated we could not make it out. Could this be one of our ancestors? We did not know and did not have time to search further. But the Auld Kirk had once been known as the Parish church of Ayrshire and therefore likely to have been the church of the Thomsons. We learned that a law had been passed several years ago requiring all parish records be placed in a common file in the Edinburgh government building and we could not go back to check them. The present owners of Blair Manor claim to have had possession since the 15th century. Lida and I wished for more time to look into these things but at present had felt very welcome in this town of our ancestors.
Then in May, 1958 we went further adventuring in search of our ancestors. This time, Mother, Truman and I spent a few a days in Missouri at Huntsville, Moberly, Armstrong and Roanoke seeing some of our cousins and scenes of the boyhood and young manhood of our grandfather, Oscar, and our great uncle, Uncle Henry. We found the farm of the Asa Q. Thomsons and stood in the spot where the old house had once been. Here the 12 children had been born. Oscar and Henry Clay were two of them. We visited Mrs. Bettie Newman who had been Bettie Thomson and whose father had been Asa Quarles II and who is there a cousin to my mother. She had carefully reserved a brick from the top of the chimney of her grandfather's house and she gave it to us. She showed us all the countryside and under her direction, we visited many of the relatives whom we had not known about. The countryside was beautiful and the small towns seem very close together and the farms small compared to the western idea of farms. These farms helped us to understand the urge for space which had brought our grandfather so far west.
Mrs. Newman also took us to visit Mr. and Mrs. Tunstall C. Rucker, two more of the cousins on their beautiful farm. They raise pure bred Black Angus cattle which were beautiful in their lush pasture. Mrs. Rucker is deeply interested in family history also and we greatly enjoyed our short visit in their lovely home. We also found time to go to Armstrong and spend an hour with Mr. and Mrs. C. I. Thomson. Her grandfather was Margaret's brother and she gave me much information regarding the Wallace kin. They, too were from Scotland and the early immigrants to American had helped to get the new government on its feet. I am greatly indebted to these three women who have helped me so much in gathering material. Some years back, a descendant of David Thomson had written of his colorful career as a soldier in the skirmishes with Indians and in the War of 1812. I have a copy of this work (so do I. vtb) and have borrowed freely from it as it touched our common history.
According to Mother's recollection, none of the Thomsons came to Oregon to live except Oscar and Henry. Marcus came for a year bringing his wife and three children, and lived on Butter Creek on the Blue Mountain ranch which was owned then by Uncle Henry. They went on to Sacramento and lived and died there. Marcus and his son Willie worked in the railroad yards and in 1899 when Lucy and Phebe visited them, Willie had not married. One daughter had married a man by the name of Frank Trainor, another married Mr. Davis.
Histories of Missouri contain biographical material of David Thomson and one of the South Carolina First Co. of Rangers under Capt. Sam Wise and Co. (sic) Wm. Thomson. The Centennial History of Missouri, Vol. 5, gives the Thomson line from David Thomson to William of Blair Manor, Scotland. The arms of the Wm. Thomson family of Blair Manor are: Crest: -an arm erected vested Gules, cuffed argent, holding hand inpr five ears of wheat or, - Moto (sic) in Lumine Luce - The Bearer of the Torch gives light.
This search for ancestors has taken me far afield and brought me many new friends. It has been a very absorbing and enjoyable pastime. I wish that I might have known them all - back to Bruce of Scotland. - and beyond; but looking backward from 1959 through 500 years of accomplishment, it seems to me that our family has continually struggled onward with a tremendous drive. What ambition drove Robert Bruce, alays against his foes, to be crowned King of Scotland? What need for farther growth caused Samuel Thomson to leave the small, cramped fields of his fathers manor in Scotland to go to the unknown new world of America? What prompted our own grandfather, Oscar Fitzallen, to leave the well tended farm with many negro slaves in Missouri for the unknown and perilous trip across the plains to California?
Having visited both Scotland and Missouri, it seems to me that cramped quarters in both places could have led to an intolerable urge on the part of both Samuel and Oscar to hunt for more room. Suffice it to say, that is a long trek from Scotland to the Pacific Coast whether by modern means of travel of by the slow march, generation by generation, through 500 years of family. It has encompassed much history in the rise and fall of Scotland as an ndependent nation and the struggles of the nation rising on the American continent known as the United States of America. It has been my privilege to collect this data and I am happy to give it to you , my family.